Minister tours schools with leaky roofs, plastic bags on windows

Alberta's education minister agrees Calgary schools need cash for repairs like leaky roofs and mechanical overhauls, but isn't making any promises.

Alberta's education minister agrees Calgary schools need cash for repairs such as leaky roofs and mechanical overhauls, but he isn't making any promises.

Gene Zwozdesky spoke tothe funding issue after touring six Calgary schools, accompanied by several MLAs, to see their condition first hand.

"We saw what some of the ceiling problems were, what some of the door problems were, what some of the enclosed classroom problems were, and floor problems and so on,"he said.

"We walked the talk, as they say."

Will push for more funds

After the tour, he said he would push caucus for more money, but wouldn't say how much.

"All we can do is ask. We can make the case and that is why we are here today gathering more information," he said.

He also promised a five-year plan that would take a comprehensive look at infrastructure needs at Alberta schools.

Calgary schools need work estimated atmore than $500 million, according to the Catholic and public school boards.

One of the facilities on the tour was Western Canada High School, which has black plastic bags on some windows and a leaky roof.

Zwozdesky also looked at Marlborough Elementary, which was shut down this spring because of fears the roof could collapse.

"We are in trouble as far as our maintenance budget goes," said Pat Cochrane, a trustee with the Calgary Board of Education. "We don't have enough money to do the work that we need to do."

Leadership issue

Dave Hancock, one of the candidates vying to replace Ralph Klein as head of the Conservative party, tried to make school funding a leadership issue Wednesday byarguing schools are under-funded.

Zwozdesky argues funding for infrastructure, maintenance and new schools is going up and Alberta has the best funded education system in the country at $5.3 billion or more than $9,200 per student come September.

"Any time we have friends and colleagues in a leadership race we can anticipate that there will be some attempt for political points to be scored," he said.

$8 million more for busing

On Thursday Zwozdesky announced that school boards in Alberta are getting an extra $8 million to help cover the rising costs of transportation.

Alberta school boards are complaining they don't have enough money to coverbusing costs with fuel, maintenance, and bus drivers' pay all on the increase.